Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have developed a new additive manufacturing process which brings down the printing time to 10 seconds. LLNL collaborated with UC Berkeley, the University of Rochester, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in this monumental research.
Additive Manufacturing, most commonly known as 3D printing, has enabled everyone to build complex parts with ease like never before but the major drawback has been the printing time. The printing time ranges from hours to even days depending on the complexity of the product. This makes it unsuitable for mass production.
With this problem statement in mind, this new process was developed which provides a solution and can have far-reaching effects in the augmenting the 3D printing technology for mass production.
Researchers have called this new process as ‘Volumetric Printing’. It uses 3D images like a hologram generated by lasers which are flashed onto a photosensitive resin from all three axes. The three lasers are directed from the x, y & z-direction which creates a 3D image in the resin. All three lasers point at the same point at the same time and as a result, the printing happens in all axes thereby reducing the printing time. So, in simple terms, the entire object is printed in about 10 seconds.
The lasers are of low intensity but the intensity triples at the meeting point and is high enough to cure the resin to form the part. Excess resin is then drained off once the curing is done and we get the 3D printed part.
The researchers claim that this results in faster printing of many parts using most of the existing technologies. According to a researcher on the team, “Its low cost, flexibility, speed, and geometric versatility, the framework will open a major new direction of research in rapid 3D printing.”
The advantage of this method lies in the fact that unlike existing technologies, volumetric printing prints the part in all three directions simultaneously. This is true 3D printing, so to speak. This process is tested to suit products like beams, planes, struts, complex objects, etc. It is found that the curved surfaces printed through this method are far smoother than the regular methods. Since there is no layering of material the mechanical properties also are evenly distributed. Another big advantage is that volumetric 3D printing is the only technology which has an intrinsic potential of printing in zero-gravity.
The impact of commercializing such a technology could be huge but still, there are a lot of inherent issues yet to be resolved. Complex structures will involve continuous intersecting of laser beams which will restrict its manufacturing potential. As of now, it is also restrictive on the types of geometries to be printed.
Amid all the hype and limitation, there is tremendous hope among the researchers. With some modifications and advancement of material and laser technology, this will be a game-changer.